This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Wednesday brings us another busy college hoops slate, full of major conference action all across the country. Steve Peralta previews a few of the matchups and presents his best bets of the day.
Pittsburgh at North Carolina
Pittsburgh started off the season in rough shape, losing three of its first four games, although its stock has since taken flight. The Panthers enter Wednesday's game having won 14 of their last 18 games and currently sit in third place in the ACC with an 8-3 conference record, including a two-point win over North Carolina back on December 30. Looking at this matchup specifically, Pittsburgh has several reasons to feel optimistic heading into the rematch. The Panthers have been effective with inside scoring, making 53 percent of shots inside the arc against conference opponents, the third-highest percentage in the ACC. North Carolina has been relatively vulnerable in that area, as its defense is allowing conference foes to make 52 percent of two-point shots, a bit worse than the league average. A similar story follows on the other end of the court as well. During conference play, Pittsburgh is holding opponents to under 48 percent on two-point shots, the fourth-lowest percentage allowed in the ACC. This defensive strength is important because the Tar Heels have struggled with long-range shooting all season, making under 32 percent of shots from behind the arc.
North Carolina went through a rough stretch at the end of November, dropping four straight games, but has since righted the ship, winning 10 of its last 12 games. That being said, many of the wins have come against teams at the bottom of the ACC standings, so we don't want to overreact to the victories. North Carolina has played in three conference games that KenPom would consider Quad 1, and it lost all three of them. Long term, the Tar Heels still have a high ceiling obviously, as they proved last year, but this team has shown that it's liable to lose against a good opponent.
All things considered, there's a decent chance this game gets decided in the final minute. Pittsburgh has been continuously surpassing expectations for the past two months. Since November 22, the Panthers have impressively covered the spread in 14 of 17 games. The opposite is true for North Carolina, which has had trouble covering all season, going 7-14 against the spread this year. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that North Carolina lost at home to Pittsburgh last season, against a Panthers team that finished near the bottom of the standings. Pittsburgh has significantly improved this season, while North Carolina is mostly the same team without much improvement despite most of last year's team returning. Pittsburgh hasn't lost a conference game by more than eight points, and I'm betting that statement will once again ring true by the end of the night.
College Basketball Best Bet: Pittsburgh +8.5
Georgia Tech at Louisville
These two teams are separated by just a single game in the conference standings, but they're separated by over a hundred teams in KenPom's overall efficiency ratings. Georgia Tech comes into Wednesday's game ranked at No. 198, with Louisville trailing much further back at No. 299. Georgia Tech hasn't been good for much of the season, but it has still put up a fight a couple of times, earning a quality win by defeating Miami on January 4 and then defeating Georgia a month prior on December 6.
The same cannot be said for Louisville, seemingly in the gutter since opening night. The Cardinals only have two total wins on the season and have lost home games to teams such as Bellarmine, Wright State, Appalachian State and Lipscomb. Against conference foes, Louisville is winless and hardly competitive aside from its game against Syracuse, losing all but one game by eight-plus points. Additionally, Louisville is 6-15 against the spread, continually failing to meet expectations even though everyone's known about its level of play for most of the season.
As far as Wednesday's matchup goes, Georgia Tech has been pretty good about not turning the ball over, ranking 74th in offensive turnover percentage. This is in stark contrast to Louisville, which is among the very worst teams at giving the ball away, ranking No. 360. On top of its turnover problem, Louisville is abysmal in just about every other offensive category. During conference play, Louisville ranks last in the ACC in offensive efficiency, two-point field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, and turnover percentage.
Given a short line, I'm taking the Yellow Jackets and fading Louisville.
College Basketball Best Bet: Georgia Tech -2
Tennessee at Florida
Following its double-digit victory over Texas this past Saturday, Tennessee has ascended to the top of KenPom's overall adjusted efficiency chart. It reached the top primarily with its defense, which is also the best in the nation, but it's not bad on offense either. During conference play, Tennessee has the second-highest offensive efficiency rating in the SEC, along with the highest effective field goal percentage, highest three-point percentage and highest free-throw percentage. The Vols also have the third-highest assist rate among all D1 teams, giving them a true team effort in every game. Given these stats, it's no surprise that Tennessee is 18-3 and has won seven of its eight conference games by four-plus points.
Florida had a few decent games in January, but overall the Gators haven't looked impressive for most of the season, particularly when facing tougher competition. Florida has had 12 opportunities at collecting a quality victory, per KenPom, and the Gators won just three of them. Furthermore, Florida has played against nine opponents that rank top-80 in adj. defensive efficiency and it lost eight of the nine.
Looking at Wednesday's matchup, one important note is that Tennessee has a noticeable rebounding advantage over Florida. Since the conference season started, Tennessee ranks top-three in the SEC in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates, while Florida ranks in the bottom four in both categories. Considering this and everything else, the Vols have a decent shot at winning comfortably. Tennessee has already played in four road conference games, winning all four by four-plus points and winning three of them by double-digits. I'm going with Tennessee in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: Tennessee -5
Wednesday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Wednesday:
- Pittsburgh +8.5
- Georgia Tech -2
- Tennessee -5
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